Are Plant Foods Low-Fat or No-Fat?
Because I emphasize a low-fat version of a whole-food, plant-based diet, some people may think that I consider all fat a bad thing. That's absolutely untrue. The human body requires fat. Our bodies use fat for for energy, to help us absorb certain vitamins and minerals, and to build the membranes of our body's more than 37 trillion cells. We need fat for the sheaths that surround our nerves, and fats are a necessary component in blood clotting. So I'm actually a big fan of fat; I eat some every day. But if you saw my plate (click here for a picture), you might not recognize my favorite source of fat.
Beets! Yep, not only are beets my favorite vegetable, but beets have fat. They have .2 grams per cup. All vegetables, legumes, fruits, and grains have some fat along with protein and carbohydrates, the three macronutrients. Here's a sample of some plant foods with their fat content:
- 1 cup quinoa: 3.6 g
- 1 cup brown rice: 1.8 g
- 1 cup kidney beans: .9 g
- 1 cup sliced strawberries: .5 g
- 1 cup chopped broccoli: .3 g
- 1 cup chopped carrots: .3 g
- 1 cup cubed sweet potato: .1 g
Do you notice that although quinoa is low in fat, it is still quite a bit higher than other foods? That's because although we use quinoa like a grain, it is actually a seed. Seeds and nuts are higher in fat than other plant foods. Other exceptions to the low-fat rule are peanuts (a legume) and avocados (a fruit).
- 1 cup cubed avocado: 22 g
- 1 cup almonds: 71.4 g
- 1 cup peanuts: 71.9 g
Wow! What a difference! That's why I eat these foods sparingly, more like a condiment. My limit is an ounce of nuts or seeds per day, or a quarter of an avocado; I don't often have even that much. John McDougall, MD, is fond of pointing out that nuts are designed with a hard shell around them to naturally limit their consumption. Of course, with the advent of modern agriculture and grocery stores, today it's as easy for us to buy a big can of almonds as it is to buy a bunch of bananas.
Despite the fact that there's an amazing abundance of low-fat plant foods, we naturally love avocados, nuts, and seeds. When I talk to patients about adopting a diet centered on low-fat whole plant foods, they often balk at the idea of limiting the higher-fat foods. "But Doc, these are natural foods. They've got healthy fats." We instinctively like foods which are higher in fat. I explain in detail in my video, "Why We Do What We Do?" the reason we crave certain foods and how to break free of those cravings. In a 'nutshell,' we crave them because high-fat foods hit a pleasure center in our brains much the way drugs affect an addict. Doug Lisle, PhD, calls this 'the pleasure trap' and has a book named The Pleasure Trap which offers the science behind our cravings and tells how to end our food addictions.
As for the 'healthy fats' my patients refer to, I explain that the term is more associated with marketing than with medical science. Our bodies do need fats, but too much of any kind of fat from any source is damaging to the delicate lining of our blood vessels, causing atherosclerosis which leads to high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. Low-fat whole plant foods don't carry that risk. That's why Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, was able to help his study participants successfully reverse advanced heart disease. Once they started eating the level of fat their bodies had been designed to handle, their diseased arteries began to heal. The movie Forks Over Knives includes the story of these patients.
When we think about fat and the great variety of plant foods available on the earth, we learn two things. First, all plant foods contain fat. Second, the vast majority of plant foods are very low in fat. I believe that nature is designed to provide for our optimal health. When we base our diet on whole vegetables, legumes, fruit, and grains with a limited amount of nuts and seeds, we will get not only all the fat we require, but a full compliment of all the other nutrients we need to stay healthy and strong for a lifetime.
For additional information:
(1) Omega 3: Do Plant Diets Need Supplementing?
Preview the "Why We Do What We Do?" Trailer
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